My good friend and colleague Lillian Howan, author of The Blue Novels, invited me to participate in The Next Best Thing meme. I’m to answer 10 questions about my new book, Junction, Utah, which will be out in early 2013. I’m also to select five writers (with new releases or projects in progress) to carry forward the meme torch.
The five I’ll be asking are:
Lin Marie de Vincent
Jordan E. Rosenfeld
I can’t wait to hear what they each have to say. As for my own meme:
(1) What is the working title of your book?
( 2) Where did the idea come from for your book?
My book is a drama set in the American West with a romance between two culturally diverse individuals at its heart. The need to connect to community and place motivate the protagonist, the nomadic river guide Madeline Kruse.
The story line began forming in my mind beginning in 1974, when the commercial river company that employed me sent me to northeastern Utah to raft the Green and Yampa Rivers. Our river crew worked in Dinosaur National Monument half the season, then moved to Moab in southern Utah to work the last half on the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon. I was the only woman on the team—that simple fact set me apart on every river we navigated and small town we inhabited.
Utah became my home base for two decades. I was intrigued by its difference from where I grew up on the West coast, and the open spaces acted as a salve for my heart. I lived and worked outside of Dinosaur, and I spent time in Salt Lake City between seasons. While in Utah, especially in the rural areas, I met people who formed the basis for my characters in Junction. I recognized traits in the culture that my parents had valued so highly in the neighborhoods where they raised us outside Portland, Oregon: friendly neighbors, tight-knit community, nature at hand, lots of family around. To me, Dinosaur felt like a place time had passed over.
Being a geologist, though, I recognized the signs of coming change even back then: the seismic crews that explored the backcountry for oil, the traces of debris we’d see of their work in remote places, the roughnecks from all over the world coming into isolated towns with cloistered populations. The setting of the book in a place that’s changing due to national demand for energy is key to the story.
(3) What is the genre of your book?
(4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?
I love this question, and it’s one I’ve entertained over many years with little resolution! I’m less familiar now with actors who are capable of playing these parts than I was when I started, but here goes:
Madeline Kruse (protagonist): Ellen Page or Keira Knightley or Carey Mulligan
Chris Sorensen (love interest): Zac Efron
Luke Sorensen (brother of love interest): Chris Hemsworth
Ruth Kruse (protagonist’s mother): Blythe Danner
Danny Stack: Jonah Hill
Cookie Friedman: Amy Adams or Emma Stone in a dark wig!
And of course I’d like a bit part, perhaps the postmistress or a river runner cruising by in a boat in the background!
(5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Nomadic raft guide Madeline Kruse must overcome obstacles both inside and out to save the threatened wilderness important to her livelihood and to find love and her place by the river.
(6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented by vanHaitsma Literary: vanhaitsmaliterary.com.
( 7) How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It started as a long short story in a collection completed in 1993—I really look at that as the first draft of Junction, even though I’d begun pieces of it much earlier. Writing the collection took the better part of two years. But I was also raising a daughter by myself, completing my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and working part-time at an environmental consulting firm, so it’s hard to say how much concentrated writing time I focused on that one story in those two years.
( 8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is similar to Junction in that it’s a love story with an ecological twist set in a small community. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner has lots of moving parts and environments, and Junction has those, too. Heart Mountain by Gretel Ehrlich tells a very human story against a big backdrop and important historical time; Junction does, too. A River Runs through It is a tale of family pulled in different directions, and Junction has that element as well. Cold Mountain employs an iconic landmark as a monument throughout, and Junction uses the Green River similarly. These are all works I admire, and they comprise part of the literature I sought to enter with Junction.
The Green River in northeastern Utah
(9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The beauty and importance of wild rivers and wilderness. Especially in these times when our disconnection from the land helps to create a national crisis of disenfranchisement from compassion and empathy, as well as puts our planet in peril, writing story that connects us to place and community is one of the highest acts I believe we can aspire to. I didn’t realize when I started this project what this belief would do to my life in terms of commitment and focus, time away from my daughter and husband, and financial sacrifice, but I still believe it was an important task to undertake.
(10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you’ve ever run a river, you’ll enjoy the whitewater scenes in Junction. You’ll also get to step into small-town Utah, as well as southern Oregon, where Madeline’s mother lives. I lived or worked in every setting in the book, except for Landstuhl, Germany, for which I had to rely on first-hand accounts from friends and colleagues who’d visited there. When I started Junction, I hadn’t been to Europe, but a trip courtesy of my sister Jennifer during a break in the writing helped me add realistic detail to those scenes.
Another thing that’s interesting about this project is how much the world has changed since I began telling this story—and how much that I foresaw has come true. Intensified oil exploration in Utah has become a reality, down to the details of its threat on national parks and other protected lands. The United States stepped up its military involvement in Iraq, also important to the plot and expected by Madeline. September 11 occurred, and although that was nothing I could have anticipated, it deeply affects a key character, U.S. Marine Luke Sorensen, as well as all the families in the book. Water as a resource has become more debated and demanded, too, as predicted by a leading character, and its interplay with oil drilling matters greatly to the plot. The world scene weaves like a web through the story—demonstrating that even those living and working in a remote valley, seemingly removed, are connected to all of us, everywhere.